This was my second visit to The Leela Palace, Chennai in less than a month, and i think that speaks volumes in itself. The first time i was there was on an official trip and i vowed to back soon. Newspapers claimed that they'd just opened the doors to their restaurants this week and their all day dining café, Spectra beckoned.
The Leela is well known for their gracious hospitality. In fact, their motto is Atithi Devo Bhava, translated to mean, 'The Guest is God'. I believe i can safely say, their courtesy and etiquette is second to none. Their USP is making you feel comfortable in their extravagant settings, and they more than succeed. I told them i'd be clicking pictures, and they happily obliged.
Now, onto the food. P.S: You must know, we headed out for lunch thinking we'd go à la carte, but all such aspirations were brushed aside on entering the restaurant. As we were led to our table facing the Adyar river, and beyond that, the Bay of Bengal (yes, the view was spectacular), an array of strategically placed buffet food counters caught our eye. A quick run through only piqued our interest and we were sold (though we had only about 15 minutes to the close of the buffet, but the restaurant manager seeing our dilemma, kindly volunteered and obliged to extend it by half an hour).
By far the most extensive lunch buffet, it was massive. The word 'café' does not do justice to the dining experience. They have 7 live counters, with the likes of a well stocked Sushi bar, a Pasta bar, a Grill section, a Chinese corner (with the crispiest fried chicken), Pizza, Salads and Appams (that would put any authentic Kerala restaurant to shame)!
and we started. The cold cuts and the salad bar is innovative. Presented beautifully, they serve tastefully cut or shaved vegetables in bowls and beside that is an array of sauces and dressings. We loved the idea of being able to make our own salad with the sauces we wanted, and i tripped on the garlic aioli and another fine dressing with the likes of olives, radishes and beets. A refreshing and interesting water melon mint cooler in a shooter glass took things to another level.
Sufficient intake of veggies, check. We moved on to the hard core stuff. There was a stuffed zucchini that had an interesting stuffing. Their prawn curry was brilliant with the prawns cooked perfectly. The Chinese counter is not to be missed. Their crispy fried chicken is tender on the inside, and so crispy on the outside, and cut up in such convenient small portions, eating by the platefuls is easy. On the downside, the momos had a slightly smokey after-taste and the Thai calamari curry had some overcooked calamari rings.
In the Grill section, the lamb tenderloin was succulent and juicy without any overpowering flavors. The grilled prawn was commendable, with just a light dressing of lemon juice. The grilled fish stood out with its clean flavors and it was cooked perfectly.
Important point to note, the Appams are to die for. Striking the perfect balance between sweet, a hint of fermented tanginess, these lacy wonders go brilliantly well with the creamy seafood mappas or the chicken curry. The seafood mappas easily makes it to the top three dishes of the day, it is creamy, light and is the most delectable mix of prawns, calamari and fish.
They offer a vegetarian pizza with artichoke and peppers drenched in International flavors and a non vegetarian pizza of tandoori chicken. We somehow preferred the veg pizza. Sadly, we could not try the pasta counter, we were short on time and frankly, our tummies wouldn't have been to handle more. Besides, we were saving space for the spread you will see below.
Priced at 1700 nett per head, the Spectra buffet has much on offer, and many of them star dishes. We are definitely going back
The hotel's pastry shop called the Cake Shop has a very impressive looking array of baked goodies. Proudly showing off a varied hue of macs, chocolates, croissants, donuts, breads, cheesecakes and cakes studded with macs i was literally in candy heaven.
The executive chef, Dharmen Makawana graciously took a good one hour off his time to talk to us and show us around the hotel. He regaled us with anecdotes from his rich experience in the hotel industry as part of many illustrious hotels. He gave us a background to how the Leela Chennai came into being and that left us at nothing short of awe and inspiration. He took us to the Library Blu Bar, and i for one can't wait till they start serving alcohol there. It imparts a mood like no other and will be a bar to reckon on the Chennai map.
Like the other Leelas, the Chennai Leela has gone all out and pulled out all the stops to make it the epitome in class and opulence. Their eye for detail and attention paid to every tiny speck is mindblowing. But like Chef Dharmen said, none of it would really matter if it did not have their trademark hospitality. and that is what makes The Leela, The Leela.